Despite a last-minute push from child advocacy groups during the final days of the 114th Congress, Congress failed to pass the Family First Prevention Services Act, which would have taken crucial steps toward reforming the federal child welfare financing structure to support keeping children safely with their families.
The bipartisan legislation, H.R. 5456 and S. 3085, unanimously passed the House in June but stalled in the Senate as the 114th Congress was coming to a close. The provisions of the legislation had been included in H.R. 34, a major medical research and mental health bill entitled the 21st Century Cures Act.
The provisions were dropped by the Senate, however, after a group of senators led by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) blocked consideration of the bill in response to concerns from group homes in North Carolina. Although the Family First provisions had the support of more than 500 child welfare groups, including the Children’s Defense Fund and the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Cures bill passed Congress without the child welfare provisions and was signed by the president on Dec. 13.
The ABA has consistently advocated for policies that address key services and support for families involved in the child welfare system and strongly supported the child welfare legislation, which would have allowed use of federal child welfare funds under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act for preventive services in the child’s home.
The legislation also would have reauthorized the Court Improvement Program (CIP), which was established 20 years ago to provide funds to state courts in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico for activities to improve judicial processes for foster care and adoption cases, including: developing mediation programs, establishing joint agency-court training, automating docketing and case tracking, linking agency-court data systems, formalizing relationships with child welfare agencies, and improvement of representation for children and families.
Authorization for the CIP program, which has been authorized and funded at $30 million, expired Sept. 30.
Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), an original sponsor of the Senate bill, voted against the 21 Century Cures Act after the child welfare provisions were pulled out of the legislation.
“Today the Senate squandered an opportunity to pass legislation that would have offered new hope for hundreds of thousands of America’s most vulnerable children and families,” Wyden said Dec. 7 on the Senate floor. “For close to three years, senators and Congress members have worked on bipartisan efforts to produce the Family First Prevention Services Act so more kids can stay safely at home with their families and relatives.” He explained that the act would have implemented the most significant improvements to the child welfare system in decades.
Just two days before the final vote on the bill, foster youth and family advocates held a Dec. 5 rally on Capitol Hill to emphasize that the fate of tens of thousands of foster children depended on passage of the legislation and urged Congress to act before the end of the 114th Congress.